Lebanon News

Women protest personal status laws outside Parliament

Women gather before Parliament to protest Lebanon's personal status law system, Beirut, March 23, 2019. (The Daily Star/Ghada Alsharif)

BEIRUT: Women gave testimonials of suffering that they attribute to the lack of a single civil code in Lebanon at a demonstration outside Parliament over the weekend.

The women were among some 20 who had gathered in Beirut’s Nijmeh Square Saturday to demonstrate against Lebanon’s multifarious personal status laws. In Lebanon, no civil code currently exists to regulate so-called personal status issues like marriage and divorce, property rights and child care. Rather, such matters are governed by 15 religious laws, which are overseen by associated courts based on a person’s religious affiliation.

Many supporters of adopting a civil personal status code in Lebanon have charged that the existence of so much disparate legislation in the current system is at its best complicated, and at its worst discriminatory.

Ten women addressed the crowd Saturday, some live and others via recordings in order to protect their identity because they were still married or were minors.

Some of the women said they had been granted a divorce, but that under their respective personal status law it had resulted in their losing the right to see their children.

In a tearful account, a Maronite woman, who said she had been married at the age of 14, said that because she had divorced her husband, he had been able to prevent her from seeing her children.

“I can’t see my child, and I gave birth to him,” she told the crowd.

Other women said the law governing them meant they were still in the process of getting divorced from their abuser, years after they had filed for it in court as a result of the personal status law.

One protester, for instance, said the Sunni court had not yet granted her divorce after two years.

Still, others said they had had to choose between losing their children and risking their own lives.

“Do we have to die to get our right?” a protester, who said she wouldn’t divorce her abusive husband because she did not want to lose the right to be in the lives of her children, said.

The demonstration brought together women from various religious backgrounds, including Christians, Druze, Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and took place before the Lebanese Parliament.

“We decided to do this event in front of Parliament so that their voices ... might be heard by [MPs],” Zoya Rouhana, the director of local NGO KAFA, which helps victims of violence and assault, and organized the demonstration, told The Daily Star.

Rouhana added that the event had been planned around Mother’s Day to remind people that many mothers suffer because of the current system.

“We believe that the only solution for these women is to create a law that unites all statuses under citizenship rather than sects,” Rouhana said.

Last month, new Interior Minister Raya El Hassan received fierce backlash when she publicly supported the establishment of civil marriage in Lebanon, including from top religious leaders.

She later met with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Latif Derian, who reiterated his “unchanging position” in opposition to civil marriage, a statement from Dar al-Fatwa said at the time.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 25, 2019, on page 3.

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